One of Michigan’s favorite sons is about to buy one of America’s most storied sports franchises.
A group led by former Michigan State basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson has emerged as the winning bidder to the buy the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers, outgoing owner Frank McCourt announced Tuesday.
The bid came in at about $2 billion, easily a record for a North American sports team.
“I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodgers franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles,” Johnson said in a statement.
If the deal is approved – it should be by the end of April – the famed ballclub’s new owner would be Guggenheim Baseball Partners, which includes Johnson as well as Stan Kasten, who’s previously served as president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
Johnson reportedly would receive a small stake in the team, as would Peter Guber, a film producer who also owns a stake in the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. The money man in the group is Mark Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a global financial services company.
McCourt, a New England native who made his fortune in real estate and parking-lot developments, bought the Dodgers in 2004 from Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp for $430 million.
While McCourt nearly doubled revenues during his tenure as owner, the ballclub has been in a state of financial disarray for quite some time. McCourt is believed to want the deal finalized before the end of April, just before a $131 million payment to ex-wife Jamie McCourt comes due.
The McCourts announced their plans to divorce on Oct. 14, 2009, the day before the Dodgers opened their National League Championship Series with the Philadelphia Phillies (Los Angeles lost in five games). What’s ensued has been a power struggle over team control and a bitter, drawn-out divorce case, in which the public was clued in on the McCourt’s lavish lifestyle, enraging diehard Dodgers fans.
Major League Baseball got involved in the day-to-day operations of the Dodgers in April 2011, and two months later commissioner Bud Selig rejected a proposed $3 billion television deal with Fox that McCourt said would’ve helped the franchise. Selig, though, was concerned much of the upfront money – nearly $400 million – would not be spent on the ballclub, but rather to pay off other debts. A week later, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy, and in November began lining up bidders for the sale.
In the end, it appears McCourt will get $2 billion, which is nearly double the previous sale record — $1.1 billion for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2009.
In December, Johnson, 52, a Lansing native, announced his intentions to join a bidding group, led by Walter and Kasten. Walter, whose Guggenheim Partners reportedly manages more than $125 billion in investments, will write the checks; Kasten, who helped put together those great Braves teams of the 1990s, could handle baseball-related duties; and Johnson is expected to serve as a vice president or the like.
The group emerged from a crowded field of bidders, groups that included the likes of former manager Joe Torre, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
Johnson was a basketball star at Lansing Everett and later Michigan State, where he led the Spartans to their first national championship in 1979. He was the first overall pick by the Lakers in 1979, and put together a Hall of Fame career before retiring in November 1991 at age 32 after stunning the world with the announcement that he had tested positive for HIV.
He attempted a couple brief comebacks as a player, but mostly turned his focus to post-career ventures, many in the world of business.
Johnson spent a lot of time on television, served as a minority owner of the Lakers (he sold his stake in 2010), owned and sold some Starbucks, and continues to be an activist in the fight against HIV and AIDS. He also remains a part-owner of the Dayton Dragons, a minor league baseball affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
Of course, he also can often be seen in the stands, cheering on the Michigan State basketball team, as he was during this year’s run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
In the Dodgers, he’ll get a franchise that has made the playoffs four times in the last eight years, but hasn’t played in – or won – a World Series since 1988, when Johnson still was starring in “Showtime” on the court at The Forum, some 20 miles from perhaps his new office at Dodger Stadium.